Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

The art of interaction, the design of digital and the science of social complexity

Category: Networks

From transaction costs to network effects

Resonance occurs whenever two things vibrate in tune. If you strike a tuning fork, an identical fork on the same table will begin to vibrate. Energy is continuously exchanged between the forks, which are in resonance. Resonance is such a powerful phenomenon that soldiers marching across a suspension bridge break stride just in case their coordinated marching should resonate with the natural vibrations of the bridge. If this would occur, the bridge would absorb the energy of the marching soldiers and the structures could even oscillate out of control and break.

Quantum theory says that each (quantum) entity has both a wavelike and a particle like aspect. The particle like characteristic is fixed but the wavelike is a set of potentialities that cannot be reduced to the existing parts of the entity. If two or more of these entities are brought together, their potentialities are entangled. Their wave aspects are interwoven to the extent that a change in the potentiality in one brings about a corresponding change in the potentiality of the other. A new shared reality emerges that could not have been predicted by studying the properties or actions of the two entities. It is really about learning that scales.

The famous experiments with the fundamental entities of visible light have proven that we cannot claim that a photon is a wave or a particle until it is measured, and how we measure it determines what we see. “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” as Max Planck put it.

The basic units of the industrial era were transacting entities enabled by market, price and coordination mechanisms. It was a world of particles separated from other particles.

As a social innovation the industrial era enterprise was born when the volume of economic activity reached a level that made administrative coordination more efficient and more lucrative than market coordination of these particles.

The important innovation of the modern firm was to internalize activities by bringing many discrete entities under one roof and under one system of coordination. The multi-unit business corporation replaced the small, single-unit enterprise because administrative coordination enabled greater productivity through lower (transaction) costs per task than was possible before.

Managers essentially carried out the functions formerly handled by price and market mechanisms.

The practices and procedures that were invented at the dawn of industrialism have become a standard operating system and are still taught in business schools. The existence of this managerial system is not questioned. It is the defining characteristic of the business enterprise.

But two aspects of work have changed dramatically.

The most successful firms are themselves multi-sided markets in interaction with entities “outside”, customers and network partners. These firms are the new platforms.

Secondly, the products/services the platform firm sells to its clients are not offerings of the firm per se, but offerings created by specific network players in specific situations of “local” network interaction.

Thus, aiming to become a platform requires a vision that extends beyond one’s firm and aims to build and sustain an ecosystem that benefits from more partners joining the network. During the industrial era, economists called this phenomenon network “externalities”. Now it is more properly called network effects.

This conceptual difference is hugely important because what assets were for the industrial firm, network effects are for the post-industrial firm.

We all have mindsets of the world that serve as maps that guide what we see and how we understand the world around us. The maps can be helpful but also outdated and incorrect. The approach that managers do the coordination is just too slow and too costly in the low transaction cost environments we live in. It is now more expensive to internalize than to link and network.

Traditional business economics focus on supply side economies of scale derived from the resource base of the company. It scales much more slowly than the demand side network effects the new firms are built on. Network effect based value can increase exponentially at the same time as costs grow linearly. If you follow the valuations of firms today there is an ever-widening gap between the network-economy platforms and incumbents driven by traditional asset leverage models. Investors and markets have voted.

People participate based on transparent information and high quality communication systems enabling “resonance”. The contributing individuals are not managers but customers and other network partners. The more of them there in active “resonance” the more assets there are.

The main mission of digital platforms is to make network effects possible. Platforms are (just) means to tackle network effects the same way the industrial corporations were (just) means to tackle transaction costs.

The big shift is from market transactions to network interactions. The world of business looks very different when we change the way we look at things from transaction cost economics to network effect economics.

Not firms but commons and market networks

Many people see peer-to-peer platforms as game changers in the world of work with the potential of reinventing the economy and giving individuals the power of the corporation. Others are sceptical and warn that the new architectures of participation and choice are in reality architectures of exploitation, giving rise to a new class of workers, “the precariat”, people who endure insecure conditions, very short-term work and low wages with no collective bargaining power, abandoned by the employee unions, rendering them atomized and powerless.

I have just finished reading “PEERS INC”, an excellent book by Robin Chase. It is both a practical guide and a textbook that explains what is happening today in the (almost) zero transaction cost economy, the digitally enabled new world that has given rise to peer-to-peer platforms as the most modern iteration of the firm.

Robin Chase explains well how the patterns of work and the roles of workers are becoming very different from what we are used to: the industrial production of physical goods was financial capital-intensive, leading to centralized management and manufacturing facilities where you needed to be during predetermined hours. The industrial era created the employers, the employees and the shareholder capitalism we now experience.

In the network economy, individuals, interacting voluntarily with each other by utilizing the new platforms/apps and relatively cheap mobile devices they own themselves, can create value, and, even more importantly, utilize resources and available “excess capacity” as Robin Chase calls it, in a much more sustainable way than was possible during the industrial era.

Work systems differ in the degree to which their components are loosely or tightly coupled. Coupling is a measure of the degree to which communication and power relation between the components are predetermined and fixed or not. Hierarchies and processes were based on tight couplings. The new post-industrial platforms are based on loose couplings following the logic of the Internet. Some people will work on one platform every now and then, while others will work simultaneously and continuously on many different platforms. The worker makes the decision about where, with whom and how much to work. The old dichotomy of employers and employees is a thing of the past.

In creative, knowledge-based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of capabilities and tasks in advance. Recruiting is becoming a matter of expensive guesswork. Matching the patterns of work with the capabilities of individuals beforehand is getting close to impossible. What, then, is the use of the organizational theater when it is literally impossible to define the organization before we actually do something? What if the organization really should be a process of emergent self-organizing in the way the platforms make possible?

Instead of thinking about the organization let’s think about organizing as an ongoing thing. Then the managerial task is to make possible very easy and very fast emergent responsive interaction and group formation. It has to be as easy as possible for the best contributions from the whole network to find the applicable contextual needs and people.

Instead of the topology or organizational boxes that are often the visual representation of work, the picture of work is a live social graph. In markets the signalling may change; It is not just a system of prices that brings people together, but purposes, capabilities and reputation .

If you follow the valuations of firms today there is an ever-widening gap between the network-economy platforms and those companies driven by traditional asset leverage models. Investors and markets have voted very clearly. Traditional business economics focus on economies of scale derived from the resource base of the company, which scales much more slowly than the network effects the new firms are built on. The start-ups have a huge advantage over the incumbents.

In practice this means that the peer-to-peer platforms can attain the level of customer reach and network size required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the core (firm) stays relatively small.

The principles behind these trends are crucially important for the future of firms and society. It used to be argued that goods for which the marginal costs, the cost of producing one more unit of customer value, were close to zero were inherently public goods and should be made publicly available. Before the digital era, roads and bridges were commonly used as examples of these platforms. The maximum societal benefit from the initial investment is gained only if the use is as unrestricted as possible. People should have free, or almost free access to the – “platform”. Once the capital costs have been incurred, the more people there are sharing the benefits, the better it is for the whole value system.

This was the economic explanation for why roads were, and still are, under public ownership. The same logic applied to public libraries: a book can be read repeatedly at almost no extra cost.

A platform (company) should therefore be as open, as accessible and as supportive as possible to as many users as possible. This is unequivocally the route to optimum value creation. The scale of the Internet can create almost boundless returns without the core company growing at all. And against mainstream thinking, services do scale now as much as products did yesterday. One person can have a million customers and ten people can have a hundred million customers. The sheer size of an enterprise will tend to mean less in the digital network business than in the world of physical goods. The flip side is that companies don’t grow and create jobs in the way they used to. It is the networks that grow creating new earnings opportunities for people who are part of the network!

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain, but a network space, where these new firms are fully market-facing and the customer experience is defined by apps. Our management thinking is slowly shifting towards understanding the new kernel of work: participative, self-organizing responsiveness.

Platforms are a valuable, shared resource making interactive value creation possible through organizing and simplifying participation. Sociologists have called such shared resources public goods. A private good is one that the owners can exclude others from using. Private was valuable and public without much value during the era of scarcity economics. This is now changing in a dramatic way, creating the intellectual confusion we are in the midst of today. The physical commons were, and still often are, over-exploited but the new commons follow a different logic. The more they are used, the more valuable they are for each participant.

The ongoing vogue of business design transforms asset-based firms to network-based platforms. Perhaps the next evolutionary step in the life of the firms is a transformation from platforms to open commons with shared protocols. Perhaps Bitcoin/Blockchain is going to be part of the new stack, the TCP/IP of business.

In the new commons and market networks, people with more potential ties become better informed and have more signalling power, while those outside and with fewer ties may be left behind. This is the new digital divide. Network inequality creates and reinforces inequality of opportunity.

In the age of abundance economics, public is much more valuable than private. Governments have always been platform creators. I sincerely hope they understand the tremendous opportunity we all face. The old demarcation line between public and private does not make any sense any more.

The principles of digital peer-to-peer commons can also enable the massive multi-stakeholder participation that is urgently needed to meet the challenge of climate change, as Robin Chase writes in her important book “PEERS INC”.

The magic power of transparency and links

Eugene Garfield founded the Institute for Scientific Information in 1960.  His pioneering work was in citation indexing. This allows a researcher to identify which articles have been cited most frequently and who has cited them. Garfield’s studies demonstrated that the number of citable items, i.e. the number of papers, together with the frequency of their citation, meaning how many scientists link to the paper, is a good measure of scientific success. The system effectively measures quantity and quality at the same time.

The whole Web is a densely interconnected network of references. It is no different from the practice of academic publishing and citation indexing. Links on the Web are also citations, or votes, as the founders of Google realized. The observation of Larry Page and Sergey Brin that links are in fact citations seems commonplace today, but it was a breakthrough at the time Google started on September 7, 1998. What Google did was essentially the same as had been done in academic publishing by Eugene Garfield.

But at this time, relevance and importance were measured through counting the number of other sites linking to a Web site, as well as the number of sites linking to those sites. What Google has proved is that people’s individual actions, if those actions are performed in a transparent way, and if those actions can be linked, are capable of managing unmanageable tasks.

Cooperation and collective work are best expressed through transparency and linking.

The mainstream business approach to value creation is still a predictive process designed and controlled by the expert/manager. This is based on the presuppositions that we know (1) all the linkages that are needed beforehand, and (2) what the right sequential order in linking and acting is. Neither of these beliefs is correct any more.

The variables of creative work have increased beyond systemic models of process design. It is time to learn from the Internet

By relying on the unmanaged actions of millions of people instead of experts/managers to classify content on the net, Google democratized scientific citation indexing. To be able to manage the increasingly complex organizations of today, the same kind of democratization needs to take place in the corporate world. The transparency of tasks is the corporate equivalent of publishing academic articles. Responsive linking, rather than predictive linking, as in hierarchies and process charts, acts as a measure of contextual relevance.

Complex, creative work requires new approaches to organizing. The Google lesson for management is that the more work is based on responsive processes of relating and the more organizing is an ongoing process in time, the more value we can create!


On the perceived relevance of academic papers.

The Social Graph of Work

The approach of the industrial era to getting something done is first to create an organization. If something new and different needs to be done, a new and different kind of organizational form needs to be put into effect. Changing the lines of accountability and reporting is the epitome of change in firms. When a new manager enters the picture, the organizational outline is typically changed into a “new” organization. But does changing the organization really change what is done? Does the change actually change anything?

An organization is metaphorically still a picture of walls defining who is inside and who is outside a particular box. Who is included and who is excluded. Who “we” are and who “they” are.

This way of thinking was acceptable in repetitive work where it was relatively easy to define what needed to be done and by whom as a definition of the quantity of labor and quality of capabilities.

As a result, organizational design created two things: the process chart and reporting lines, the hierarchy.

In creative, knowledge based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of people, capabilities and tasks in advance. In many firms reporting routines are the least important part of communication. Much more flexibility than the process maps allow is needed. Interdependence between peers involves, almost by default, crossing boundaries. The walls seem to be in the wrong position or in the way, making work harder to do. What, then, is the use of the organizational theatre when it is literally impossible to define the organization before we actually do something?

What if the organization really should be an ongoing process of emergent self-organizing? Instead of thinking about the organization, let’s think about organizing.

If we take this view we don’t think about walls but we think about what we do and how groups are formed around what is actually going on or what should be going on. The new management task is to make possible the very easy and very fast emergent formation of groups and to make it as easy as possible for the best contributions from the whole network to find the applicable tasks, without knowing beforehand who knows.

The focal point in organizing is not the organizational entity one belongs to, or the manager one reports to, but the reason that brings people together. What purposes, activities and tasks unite us? What is the cause of interdependence and group formation?

It is a picture of an organization without walls, rather like contextual magnetic fields defined by gradually fading rings of attraction.

Instead of the topology of organizational boxes that are still often the visual representation of work, the architecture of work is a live social graph of networked interdependence and accountability. One of the most promising features of social technologies is the easy and efficient group formation that makes this kind of organizing possible for the first time!

It is just our thinking that is in the way of bringing down the walls.


Why companies don’t grow – The idea of the platform company

The effects of Moore’s law on the growth of the ICT industry and computing are well known. A lesser-known but potentially more weighty law is starting to replace Moore’s law in strategic influence. Metcalfe’s law is named after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. The law states that the cost of a network expands linearly with increases in the size of the network, but the value of the network increases exponentially. When this is combined with Moore’s law, we are in a world where at the same time as the value of the network goes up with its size, the average costs of technology are falling. This is one of the most important business drivers today. The implication is that there is an ever-widening gap between network-economy companies and those driven by traditional asset leverage models. Traditional business economics focus on economies of scale derived from the capital base of the company, which tends to scale linearly

In practice this means that digital services can attain the level of customer reach and network size, required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the company stays relatively small. This is why network-economy based start-ups have such a huge advantage over asset leverage based incumbents.

The principles behind this are not totally new.

It used to be argued that goods for which the marginal costs, the cost of producing one more unit of customer value, were close to zero were inherently public goods and should be made publicly available. Before the digital era, roads and bridges were commonly used as examples. Maximum benefit from the initial investment is gained only if the use is as unrestricted as possible. People should have free, or almost free access.  Once the capital costs have been incurred, the more people there are sharing the benefits, the better it is for the whole value system in the future. This was the economic explanation for why roads were, and still are, under public ownership. The same logic applied to public libraries: a book can be read repeatedly at almost no extra cost.

What used to be called “public goods” is today called “platforms”. A new form of a company is being born!

Once the up-front costs have been incurred and the platform is established, the more people there are who are sharing the benefits, the greater the net present value of the whole value system becomes.  A platform company should therefore be as open, as accessible and as supportive as possible, to as many users as possible.  This is unequivocally the route to optimum value creation.  Moreover, the higher the value of the system, the costlier it becomes to all its members to replace it – creating a major barrier to entry.

Restructuring a firm for the new world would require concurrent relative downsizing of legacy systems and upsizing of the new open platforms.  As both are explicitly costly things to do and the financial rewards of the latter are typically deferred, the exercise becomes challenging for incumbents to implement within the constraints of the existing financial frameworks. But it is happening!

Internet scale economies can create almost boundless returns without the company growing at all. The goal of Supercell is to be “as small as possible” as Ilkka Paananen has said. At the beginning of 2013 Tumblr had only 145 employees and 100 million visitors. That meant it had 700.000 visitors per employee. The sheer size of an enterprise will tend to mean less in the digital network business than in the world of physical goods. Companies don’t grow any more in the way they used to! It is the networks that grow!

But something else needs to change too: customer focus has been the dominant mantra in business. Everybody knows that everything should focus on the customer. However this is not enough any more. Up to now, business has focused on the customer as an audience for products, services and marketing communications. In the world of digital networks, the customer will be transformed from being an audience to an actor. The activity of the customer focuses corporate effort.

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain, but a network space, where these platform companies are fully market-facing and the customer experience is defined by applications connecting to the platform.

The basis of executive power is shifting from being in charge to being connected. New leaders understand that power with people is much more effective than power over people. It is about integrating the best of networked thinking and leveraging the new platforms for value creation.


Thank you Sasu Ristimäki for the iterations and thank you for developing my thinking.

More on the subject: Jeremy Rifkin.

A Christmas Letter

Gregory Bateson wrote that the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and how people think. Mainstream economics still sees the economy and society as ultimately predictable and controllable (machines), although the repeated financial crises have shown how deeply flawed this view of the world is.

Luckily, during 2013, more scholars than ever before saw organizations as being more analogous to nature. There, it is not about predictions and control, but about perpetual co-creation, complex responsive processes and fundamental interdependence. Their claim is that we should study links and interactions. Many aspects of our social and economic world would start to look completely different from this complex network perspective.

2013 also brought us closer to understanding how work itself is changing.

Knowledge work is creative work we do in interaction. Unlike the business processes we know so well, where tangible inputs are acted on in some predictable, structured way and converted into outputs, the inputs and outputs of knowledge work are ideas, information and decisions. Even more, there are no predetermined task sequences that, if executed, would guarantee success. Knowledge work is characterized by variety and exception rather than routine. It is thus impossible to separate a knowledge process from its outcomes. Knowledge work is not “just work”, a means to doing something else! Knowledge work is about human beings being more intensely present. Thus, a business today needs to be human-centric – by definition.

The good news then, is the advances during 2013 in network theory and knowledge work practices. The bad news, as we now look ahead to 2014, is that today we are as far from being human-centric, as we have been for ages. As one example, people still tend to see their work and personal lives as two separate spheres. Although this conflict is widely recognized, it is seen as an individual challenge, a private responsibility to manage.

It is now time to challenge this and see the conflict as a systemic problem. It is a result of the factory logic, which saw human beings as controllable resources and interchangeable parts of the main thing, the production machinery. The context and logic of work are dramatically different today. In knowledge work we need to create an explicit, new connection between work and personal life. We talked earlier about balancing work and life. Here we are talking about connecting work and life in a new way, with a new agenda. Human beings are the main thing.

Traditional management thinking sets employee goals and business goals against each other. The manager is free to choose the goals, but the employee is only free to follow or not to follow the given goals. This is why employee advocates mainly want socially responsible firms, nothing else, and the management of those firms wants committed employees who come to work with enthusiasm and energy. Must we then choose between the goals of the people or the goals of the business, or can the two sides be connected? As we know, passion and commitment are best mobilized in response to personal aspirations, not financial rewards. We need a new agenda connecting people and businesses! The aim, however, is not to have a single set of common goals, but complementary goals and a co-created narrative for both!

Linking personal lives with corporate issues may seem like an unexpected, or even unnecessary connection. But if we don’t learn from network theory and knowledge work practices, and continue to deal with each area separately, both individuals and organizations will suffer. The lack of a connecting agenda may also be one of the big challenges facing the emerging post-industrial society.

We need to study the intersection of business strategy and personal narrative and use the new agenda to challenge our industrial age practices and flawed ways of thinking. Knowledge work needs whole human beings. People who are more fully present, people with responsibility and ownership. We are accustomed to taking work home, but what would the opposite be? This may be the next frontier of social business. More on this next year!

Christmas is a special time for family and friends. Perhaps the rest of the year can also be made very special through rethinking and reinventing some of the basic beliefs we have about work!

Happy New Year!


Thank you Deborah Kolb, Lotte Bailyn, Paul Ormerod, Ken Gergen, Ralph Stacey, Joyce K Fletcher, Doug Griffin, Kim Weckström and Katri Saarikivi

More on the subject:

Futurice. A company that is already in the future. HBR: “To Optimize Talent Management, Question Everything” HBR: “The Ideas that Shaped Management in 2013” “Essential Zen Habits” “The Third Way of Work” “a way of working where the people doing the work matter as much as the work being done” “Bring Your Own Device is really Bring Your Own Mind” “work is you, you are the work. So what is the future of You?

The Internet of Things

Industrial era enterprises viewed customers through the lens of a fairly uniform set of features, leading to customers being seen as having relatively uniform needs. But even commodity products are always a bundle of use contexts, buying patterns, complementary goods and delivery options. Just because a product is a commodity doesn’t mean that customers can’t be diverse in the ways they use the product.

All use cases are somewhat the same and somewhat different. This means that different customers and processes use products that are manufactured in the same way, with the same product features, differently. It is contextual. Customers and the way products are used, are today understood to be active contributors to value creation. The word “consumption” really means value creation, not value destruction. Companies don’t create value for customers, the way the products are used creates value, more value or less value.

The parties explicitly or implicitly “help each other to help each other”. Value creation is a process of interaction. As the goal is to create more value together, a critically important element would be to implant context aware intelligence and interaction capability to a product.

The Internet of Things refers to embedded computing power and networking capability of the physical objects through the use of sensors, microprocessors and software that can collect, actuate and transmit data about the products and their environment. The gathered data can then be analyzed to optimize, develop and design products, processes and customer services. IoT is often about two new digital “layers” for all products: (1) an algorithmic layer and (2) a network layer.

The algorithmic layer “teaches” the customer and the product itself to create more value in a context-aware way, and accordingly teaches the maker the product to develop. As a result, the customer’s need set is expanded beyond the pre-set physical features of the offering. This changes the conceptual definition of the product and it becomes more complex. The more complex the product, the more opportunities there are for the maker to learn something that will later make a difference.

From a marketing standpoint, when a customer teaches the firm behind the product how she uses the product, what she wants or how she wants it, the customer and the firm are also cooperating on the sale of a product, changing the industrial approach to sales and marketing. The marketing and sales departments used to be the customer’s proxy, with the exclusive role of interpreting changing customer needs. Internet-based business necessarily transforms the marketing function and sales specialists by formally integrating the customer use case into every part of the organization. Thus the customer of tomorrow interacts with, and should influence, every process of the maker through the connected, intelligent products.

In the age of the Internet of Things, all products are software products. The value of the code, computing power and connectivity, may determine the value potential of a product more than the physical product itself. The effectiveness of an offering is related to how well it packages the learning from past activities, other use cases and from other similar products and how it increases the users options for value creation through network connections in the present. The offering actuates data via algorithmic smartness and through live presence (in the Internet). Connectivity also enables some functions of the product to exist outside the physical product in the product system, the cloud.

A product or a service should today be pictured as a node in a network with links to supplementary services and complementary features surrounding the product. The task today is to visualize the product in the broadest sense possible.

Visualizing these connections changes the strategic opportunity space dramatically. The study of isolated parts offers little help in understanding how connected parts work in combination and what emerges as the result of network connections. Every link and relationship serves as a model for what might be possible in the future. What new relational technologies are making possible for manufacturing industries is a much, much richer repertoire of business opportunities than what we were used to in a traditional industrial firm.

The ability to create value in a remarkably more efficient and resource-wise way corresponds to possibilities for interaction with relevant actors, information and products. If interdependent links are few, poor, or constraining, the activity and value potential will be limited.

The Internet of Things and technological intelligence in general, create transformative opportunities for more efficient and more sustainable, resource-wise, practices and also higher margins!


Thank you Rafael Ramirez

More on the subject: Ford’s OpenXC. Bosch. Kari A. Hintikka (In Finnish)

People, purposes and participation

The quantity and quality of knowledge workers output is correlated with the amount of well-being they get form their work. For this reason the quality of working life has received increased attention lately. We were asked to study well-being in the context of knowledge-work and social business technologies.

The most important thing that came up was that participation in relevant decision-making needs to be increased at the same time as social technologies are introduced. If this is not done successfully, other changes, such as improving generic communication practices, are only temporary and less effective. At every level of the organization, the quality of a person’s working life is proportional to that person’s participation, first and foremost, in the making of decisions by which she or he is affected.

The need for such participation is unsurprisingly also related to the age, competence and educational level of the individual. The younger the worker is, the greater the need to participate is.

Managers cannot be successful anymore unless they understand the difference between “power over people” and “power with people”. Power over was seen as the ability to get people to do things they would not do voluntarily. It is thinking that is based on the outdated and false motivational theory of rewards and punishments.

Everybody we interviewed recognized examples of decisions that were diluted or compromised because those who had to do the implementing did not buy into the rulings. Educated people do not respond well to commands or to somebody who tries to exercise dominance through the power their position gives them. Hierarchy does not work that well any more. Managers must depend on the willingness of their subordinates to act voluntarily. Managers who want authority for its own sake do not fit well into knowledge-based organizations.

Power with is different. It is the ability to connect people, purposes and participation. It is about co-creation and cooperation: doing meaningful things, with meaningful people, in meaningful ways.

In industrial settings, and in principal–agent hierarchy structures in general, this did not matter. Subordinates were dependent on the managers, never the other way round. As a consequence many managers now lack support from their subordinates resulting in low productivity, dismal creativity and slow learning.

Just as subordinates can make their managers look bad, they can also make them look good. This means that managers cannot hold their positions without the approval of both their bosses and their subordinates.

In modern work, leaders create the followers, and, at the same time, followers create the leaders. It is about power with. Equality and efficiency are not opposites; in fact, they become more and more closely connected as the educational and competence level of the workforce increases and as knowledge work becomes the norm.

The social revolution continues. This revolution, as many before it, may be about equality.


On power and status. “Power over and power with“.

The core of the social business

We are in the midst of a shift from the industrial system of supply and demand to social, co-production models. The customer is now seen as being directly and actively involved in the key moments of value creation as opposed to passively consuming value. There are profound implications that result from this change of thinking. Products and services are not reproducible as such any more. Solutions are by default contextual and personalized, but they can be starting points for someone else to create value.

Creative, connected learning is at the core of the social business.

It is not learning related to meeting the requirements set by someone else, but learning that is motivated and expressed through personal, situational needs. As a result, a new meaning of education and learning is emerging.

Business, more than government, is driving the changes in education that are required for the knowledge-based economy. The government-run education systems are lagging behind the transformation in learning that is evolving outside schools. Businesses are even coming to bear the primary responsibility for the kind of education and learning that is necessary for a country to remain competitive in the future.

Gutenberg’s printing press broke the monopoly of the church on what was taught and by whom. Today’s social technologies are doing the same to schools and universities. The learners decide what is taught and by whom. The new technologies are perhaps not making teachers and schools obsolete, but are definitively redefining their roles and breaking local monopolies.

A learning business is not the same as the learning organization made popular by Peter Senge and many others. It is not about systems thinking, or learning how to use technologies and data.

A learning business is one that leverages the economic value of knowledge.

Producing more value than is used is the characteristic of productivity. True learning businesses must therefore be teaching businesses. This means communicating to customers the additional value of learning in the context of the services and products offered. Learners are teachers and teachers are learners. Creating learning connections is more valuable than creating learning content.

Inside an organization, all people must take responsibility for information and communication. Each person needs to take responsibility for his or her own active contribution. Everyone needs to learn to ask three questions continuously. What information do I need? What information do I owe others? With whom should I communicate?

Each level of management and each process step is a relay. That was OK when the speed of learning was not an issue. It was also OK that businesses were hierarchy-based, because transparency was not possible. In a learning business each relay means cutting the potential for learning in half and doubling the noise. Hierarchy used to speed things up, now it slows down.

The most important principle of a social, learning business is to build the organization around information and communication instead of around a hierarchy.

There is a debate going on that focuses on the distinction between ethical and practical education. There are people who emphasize moral values and those who underline the practical reasons for education. There are voices that are concerned that business-driven learning would mean less moral and ethical education than under government-led learning. But there are also people who stress that in order for any business to thrive in the new economy, it needs to show a new, intense and honest interest in values and sustainable ethics. Some people I know inside the church have been surprised that leading corporations dedicate more time to education about values than they, or schools do.

We have moved to a new economy, but we have yet to develop a new educational paradigm.


Andrew Ng on the importance of universal access to education. Clayton Christensen on disrupting the education industry. Joi Ito on formal vs. informal education. Clay Shirky on social reading. Paul Graham: “Large organizations will start to do worse now because for the first time in history they are no longer getting the best people

There is no (social) business without customers

Last week I met with executives from large traditional manufacturing firms. They asked me what the ideas of social business might mean for them. What kind of changes might be ahead?

There is a saying that without customers, you have no business being in business. Accordingly, customer focus has been the dominant idea in business since the 1960s. Businesses have focused on customers as an audience for products, services and marketing messages.

But unfortunately, many businesses consistently miss the big shift: customers have transformed from an audience to actors. Firms don’t create value for customers. The way customers use the products and services creates value. It is a process of co-creation, not consumption. There are no consumers any more!

Many troubled companies still focus mainly on the wrong things. Their turnaround efforts don’t typically involve the customer. Managers streamline the businesses mainly through cutting costs; they re-engineer the internal processes to make them more cost-efficient. But they regularly leave out the most important part of the equation. They don’t start from the outside, the customer, and work in. They don’t create customers first. Instead, they work from the inside out. Many of these initiatives save money, but don’t affect the revenue side.

There is a revolution going on at this very moment as a result of the new interactive tools and social platforms. Every organization, no matter how big, now has for the first time the ability to interact directly with its end customers. Every company has the potential to consolidate customer insights and to gain a much better picture of who its customers are, how customers use the products, which products they discuss, and where they discuss them?

The problem for many traditional businesses is the definition of who the customer is. The real customer for any business is the end user of the offering, the person or company who uses the product, not the ones who distribute the product to the user or even, necessarily, the ones who pay for it. If your actual end customers don’t value your product or service, sooner or later you’ll be out of business. The length of time it takes for customer dissatisfaction to put you out of business depends on the number of steps, the degree to which you are away from direct customer contact. This was one of the main concerns that the executives raised in our discussions.

Many companies I met had delegated customer interaction to their distribution channel as part of the overall value chain set-up. Very often the distribution channel “owns” the customer in exchange for the services given. The problem here is often letting that channel withhold information about customers as part of the trade-off.

In most markets, the demand for a direct relationship between producers and customers becomes more and more intense as the channels of distribution become shorter and more varied.

The marketing and sales departments used to be the customer’s proxy, with the exclusive role of interpreting changing customer needs. Social business necessarily transforms the marketing function and sales specialists by formally integrating the customer into every part of the organization. The customer of tomorrow interacts with, and should influence, every process.

For routine retail transactions, as we have known them, such direct customer influence may seem all but impossible. But improvements in interaction technologies and companies’ ability to handle big data, and customer-specific small data make it feasible to claim that the number one thing shaping the performance of the traditional manufacturing enterprise is the interactive capacity between producers and customers.

The good news is that I have seen a new breed of executives coming to power. The people I meet are technology-literate. They are not only the early adopters of the next hot gadgets. They are pragmatists. They are frustrated by antiquated information and CRM systems, firewalls and organizational silos that get in the way of streamlining customer-facing business processes. “There are no back offices any more”, said one of the executives. “All processes need to be customer-facing in order for us to be competitive and serve the new active customers.”

The Internet is not a simplistic agenda reserved for the Internet companies any more. Perhaps we should accordingly stop talking about social business. The timing is now right for those leaders who are willing to doubt accepted wisdom regarding how things are done and are prepared to experiment and interact with their customers in new ways.

“There is no business without rich customer interaction,” as one executive put it.

In the end it is about being closer to things that matter.


Thank you Tore Strandvik

Developing more effective systems of digital engagement.